A Great Day out on the Heaphy Track
By Stephen and Jan Roberts
There are stars glittering in the sky – it is still dark out – too early for the sun to be up yet and we’re in the car driving north. We have a mission planned – first stop Westport to refuel and meet some friends and then on up to Karamea to mountain bike the Heaphy Track.
The Heaphy Track is a 78 km track in the Kahurangi National Park that runs from Karamea in the Buller region of the West Coast through to Collingwood in the Nelson/Tasman region at the top of the South Island. Traditionally only a hiking trail DOC have given it a three-year trial run for seasonal mountain biking. Our plan today is to bike into the Lewis Hut, the second hut in and then bike back out again – like I said, we have a mission planned – why don’t you come along for the ride……..
With next to no traffic on the road it is an easy drive to Westport (to be expected really as it is Saturday morning and how many other crazy people would be driving at 6.30am in the dark). Glorious morning and lovely to watch the skies change from dark and starry to the pink and blue hues as the sun comes up. Not a breath of wind either so it is eerily quiet out. Looks like we are in for a glorious day.
After meeting with our friends Shaz, Ren and Mandy in Westport and Mandy’s friend Mark, we head off for the journey over the Karamea Bluff to Karamea and the trailhead of the Heaphy track. By the time we arrive the sun is well and truly up and it is warming up nicely. Being autumn in NZ it is always hard to know what to wear so we all have our thermals on just in case.
With anticipation and a little trepidation we head off on our expedition. Shaz and Ren have ridden the trail before so they know what we are in for. Stephen and Mandy rode it many years ago before you weren’t allowed to ride it and Mark has hiked the trail so I was the only newbie and to say I was anxious would be an understatement. Stephen said he could feel the tension oozing out of me. I’m often like that before a big bike ride – not knowing what I’m in for, how many hills, how long is it going to take, will I be fit enough, will I hold everyone up……… silly really but that is just me!
The track starts with a bit of a climb – nothing too strenuous, just a gradual incline winding its way up the bluff, helping warm up the muscles and shake off some tension. There are a couple of swingbridges to cross – there are going to be plenty of these along the way, some short others much longer. Pretty soon we have all warmed up and have big smiles on our faces. We can’t believe the scenery – there aren’t enough words to describe it – absolutely magnificent. Everyone sheds a layer of clothing and we are off again, down the other side of the bluff and then following the coastline.
The track meanders along, up and down with little rocky outcrops to negotiate and deep sandy sections. Some parts lead you right onto the beach – bit of bike walking and bike carrying required for these sections. The pounding surf rages almost along side you and as the ride goes on and the tide comes in the spray and sound is fabulous and adrenaline pumping.
The bush is simply stunning, lush Rata and Karaka trees and row upon row of Nikau Palm trees. The trail winds inland slightly and then back out following the coastline. It continues like this for around 16.5kms before we reach our first destination – the Heaphy Hut.
Before we reach our destination though we have some laughs crossing the swing bridges, especially the longer ones. They are nice and wide for the bikes but like when you walk across them, they soon start swinging and it is quite an odd sensation riding your bike across something that is moving both sideways and slightly up and down. There are huge smiles on all our faces as we safely reach the other side.
At the Heaphy hut we have a bit of a rest, chat and laugh about the ride so far and refuel with a bit to eat. Everyone is prepared with sandwiches and bars. Nice place to rest here for a bit with fabulous views of the Heaphy river meeting with the Tasman Sea and surrounded by this gorgeous forest. Does life get much better than this!
Onwards again and we have a reasonably flat 7kms to the next hut – the Lewis Hut and our turn around point for the day. The trail winds in and out of the forest now filled with supple jack vines and huge rock formations and follows the Heaphy River inland. There are some huge dinosaur looking trees and Ren and Shaz stop for a pose – nice shot guys!
We probably all go a bit quick on this section – enjoying our surroundings and forgetting we have to bike all the way out again……. fun while it lasts though. We round the corner and the Lewis Hut is in front of us. Another quick break and bite to eat and time to turn round and head for home.
The ride out is just as spectacular as the ride in but the energy levels are waning. Not quite the same smiley faces as we cross the numerous swing bridges. Shaz and Ren make it look easy though – I’m convinced these guys run on energiser batteries – they are truly inspirational!
Nearly back – just have to climb back out and over the bluff – I totally forgot about the climb, slow and steady as she goes…….
The trailhead beckons and we give ourselves a clap and wahoo. Comments are made to each other how blessed we are to live in such a beautiful part of the country, have the opportunity to either bike or hike in such a beautiful part of the country and even more-so actually be able to bike or hike so we can enjoy this wonderful scenery that makes up the West Coast of the Southern Alps of New Zealand.
Now – where is a shop to buy more food……… I’m hungry!
Jan and Stephen run Breakers Boutique Accommodation 14kms north of Greymouth. They love the outdoors and enjoy living on the West Coast and getting out and exploring. Check out their other blog postings or activities pages for idea on things to see and do while visiting the West Coast.
A great day out for FREE…MTB from Karamea to the Heaphy Hut and back….then stay at Rongo Backpackers & Gallery and enjoy a world famous “Heaphy Feast.” http://www.RongoBackpackers.com